What Are You Craving?

 

A craving is defined as a powerful desire for something. It’s an intense and urgent feeling and in the realm of addiction, it’s not just a feeling of want but of need. Uninterrupted, a craving can quickly become an obsession with the power to hijack the brain and derail recovery.

When I think back over my years in active addiction, my concept of “craving” was narrow. I thought I craved two things and two things only. I craved (specific) foods and I craved total isolation. When either of these struck, nothing could stop me from satisfying them. I saw nothing wrong with my intense need to isolate, I believed it to be a normal form of rest. My food cravings also seemed like a normal part of life and indulging them was encouraged by such beliefs as “you deserve it” and “life is short”.

I tossed the word “craving” around lightly and with humour. Somehow, I’d normalized the fact that I’d progressed into a constant state of craving which was dictating my life. Until one day, there came a point when satisfying my cravings … no longer satisfied. Shortly thereafter, I discovered this to be a hallmark of addiction and I knew I needed a program of recovery.

Almost immediately, I was introduced to “the tools” of the program. I was told that by using these tools, I could effectively interrupt any food thought or urge that might interfere with my recovery. Furthermore, I was told that with consistent practice of these tools, I could rewire my brain. Despite my skepticism, I decided to trust the process. With time, my food thoughts became easier to handle, they felt less urgent and they diminished until eventually, (for the most part) they disappeared.

It was only by working a full program of recovery that I discovered my cravings went beyond the biochemical. On the surface, I was chasing the bliss of tastes and textures that once set off vivid fireworks in my brain. With the support of a food addiction professional, I was able to get beneath that by feeling the craving, rather than fighting it. By tuning into my body, I learned how to uncover what the food thought was rooted in and identify what the true need was.

Today I experience craving in a positive way. I experience it as a deep and soulful pull towards something that deepens my presence and my peace and keeps me connected to the vibrant life I have today.

Today I crave feelings of awe and wonder. I crave creativity, open roads and adventure. I crave friendly faces, laughter and connection. I crave deep breaths, brisk walks and sound sleep. I crave sunshine, blue skies and drifting clouds. I crave great music, sunsets and starry nights…

I wonder if you asked yourself, “What am I really craving?” if, like me, it’s something that food can never satisfy

Andrea

From Willful To Willing

Sometimes I wonder how it is that I am living the life I have today. By “the life”, I mean one of peace and freedom from my food addiction. At least once a day, I am stopped dead in my tracks with overwhelming gratitude for what it feels like to live in recovery.

It would be impossible for me to pinpoint an exact moment when the miracle occurred. My recovery has been (and continues to be) an ongoing process. Just like my life, my recovery has had ups and downs and gone through significant changes over time. But if someone would ask me how my recovery began, I’d say it began with the first decision I made to step out of willfulness and into willingness.

I’d spent my whole life trying to solve a problem for which I never found the answer. Until one day, I heard about a possible solution through an inpatient treatment program. I considered the possibility that I just might have a shot at recovery and as a result, I became willing to learn more.

With nothing but hope, I made a decision to take a leave from work, go into substantial debt and attend inpatient treatment. It had taken a tremendous amount of willingness and sacrifice to do this.

When I arrived, not only was I suffering the physical consequences of my food addiction but I was dying a slow and agonizing spiritual death. Here I was, utterly defeated, admitting that I was powerless over food and my life had become unmanageable. After a lifetime of painful searching, I was finally being offered a solution…. a solution which I rejected the very idea of. This so-called solution did not appeal to me at all. I wanted ease and comfort. I wanted to do things my way. I wanted what I wanted and would only accept the help that I decided on.

I clung to my old ideas. Unwilling to give up control, I was afraid to let go of the only thing I’d ever known, my self will. My (false) belief was that my self-will was what gave me power and kept me in control. Today, I know the truth about a life run on self will. My self will kept me imprisoned for years in behaviours with deadly consequences. It kept me in victimhood so that I didn’t have to take responsibility. It kept me trapped in the belief that if only the external world were different, my inner world would finally be at peace.

My years of willfulness robbed me of so much but thankfully, I finally recognized that. By accepting the truth of where my self will had gotten me, I was able to continue on the path toward willingness. If you’re wondering how I did that, it didn’t happen in one giant leap, it took many steps, each

requiring some degree of willingness. With the hope that what worked for others might also work for me, I became willing to do what others had done.

If you struggle with letting go of self will, try getting curious about possibilities and ask yourself the questions that can lead to willingness.

Is it possible that taking new actions might bring new results?

Is it possible that you can doubt the process and do it anyway?

Is it possible that as addicts, we aren’t so different… and what worked for me, might also work for you?

Acknowledge your shift from willful to willing every time you don’t want to do something but you do it anyway. Continue to ask yourself two things, “What am I willing to do, to increase the manageability of my life?” and “What am I willing to do, to increase my spirituality?”. For example, you might start to follow a food plan as well as begin a consistent meditation practice.

As you begin to experience the miracle of recovery, ask yourself, “What am I willing to do, to align my will with that of my higher power?”.

You just might say you’re willing to go any lengths.

 

Andrea

The Cost Of Recovery

Last week I was awakened by a voice in my ear. It whispered four words, “the cost of recovery”. Since no one else was actually there to whisper these words, I wondered if this might be a seed of inspiration. I decided to wait, watching for further “signs” as confirmation.

The first email I opened that day was from someone trying to reconcile the (financial) costs of maintaining her recovery. The next email was from someone else expressing concern over the ramifications of recovery on the “rest of” her life. Shortly after, I spoke with someone else who was struggling to decide if recovery was really “worth it”. She felt that the cost of giving up her favourite foods along with the ability to eat with spontaneity, were just too great. She felt that the effort required for recovery was simply too much and (at least in this moment), she had no reason to believe it was worth it. In a not so subtle way, it seemed that I was being guided to write about the costs of recovery.

In any business, there are times when decisions must be made either to proceed with or forgo certain actions. A cost benefit analysis helps to decide what is best. Data is collected to establish if taking the action will be worth all of the effort and resources. The potential repercussions must also be considered. Ultimately, the question is, do the estimated benefits outweigh the costs?

My addict brain and my recovery brain both participate in running the business of my life. This conjures an image of my addict brain and my recovery brain, meeting in the boardroom of my mind. My addict brain is a cartoon figure, a shady little fellow wearing dark sunglasses and a trenchcoat. Carrying a tattered notebook, he enters the boardroom and sits at a table across from my recovery brain. My recovery brain is a human figure, dressed in a tailored suit and quite professional looking, she sits tall and confident with a laptop opened before her. Both are skilled negotiators but this was not always the case. You see, just four short years ago, I hadn’t even met my recovery brain yet.

I did not know what recovery was but I knew addiction. I’d reached a point where my greatest source of pleasure was also my greatest source of pain. My addict brain had been running the business of my life for years until suddenly, even if just for a moment, it knew that the pain of staying in the food was greater than the perceived pain of giving it up. In that moment, there was such a desperate need for relief that I was willing to take it at any cost.

I entered treatment and as I began to get well, my recovery brain started to emerge. With that, I noticed a growing tendency to want to debate the costs of recovery . This is the twist of thinking that I believe exists in the mind of every addict, it seemed I had already forgotten the pain which drove me to seek recovery in the first place! Both parts of my brain wanted to make a data driven decision to determine if recovery was “worth it”. One big problem with that is that the addict brain can not be trusted. It manipulates and hides data. It lies to create fear around the repercussions of a recovered life. But perhaps the bigger problem was that my recovery brain had not yet accumulated enough data to believe that the benefits of recovery might outweigh the costs.

It takes time to build recovery. It takes time to heal the addict brain. It takes time to know what the difference is between living abstinently and living in recovery. It takes even more time to experience this at a soul level. As a food addict in early recovery, I too had moments where I believed going back to the food held more for me than recovery ever could. I too had moments when recovery just didn’t seem worth it. I too was keeping score of costs and benefits and wondering if perhaps there wasn’t another, less “costly” way.

My addict brain and my recovery brain no longer meet to analyze the costs of recovery. As I continued to be willing to trust the process, my thinking shifted. My perception of the “cost of recovery” eventually fell away. My awareness of living a peaceful and enlightened life continued to grow until one day, there was nothing left to weigh or negotiate…there was just a knowing that the value of my life in recovery is beyond all measurable costs.

 

Andrea

Where Do I Belong?

In the context of my work, I connect with people every day who are at various stages of addiction and recovery.  Sometimes, I am brought into contact with someone at the consultation stage. That person is often on a fact finding mission. They are in pain and want to understand why. Some clearly state that they know they are food addicts, while others are desperate to finally learn what might be “wrong” with them.  No matter how they categorize themselves, ultimately they are looking for the same thing. With respect to their treatment options, they want to know where they “belong”.  These conversations are precious to me because I am reminded of the first call that I made, seeking the same answers. I am reminded of what it felt like when life was veiled in defeat and confusion, when I didn’t know where I “belonged”. When the inpatient treatment option was laid out for me, I knew one thing and one thing only.  This was my last hope.

 

If what you’ve read so far resonates and if you’re wondering if inpatient is right for you, then chances are, it is. The Acorn Intensive is modeled after inpatient treatment. Its hard to convey all that it has to offer in just a few words but it’s focus is threefold.

 

To get abstinent from addictive foods and abusive food behaviours

To be supported through detox

To understand that food addiction is a disease which we are powerless over.

 

I often think of the process as “spiritual magic”. Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic wand, it requires hard work, painful emotions and rigorous honesty.  But there is something wondrous about the way the various aspects of the program weave together, resulting in recovery.

 

If you’ve already been to an intensive, you might be wondering if you should keep reading or how this post applies to you. Definitely keep reading because I’m talking about a common theme within the SHiFT community as a whole.  No matter where someone is on the recovery continuum, there comes at least one time when they want to know what they “need most”.  In my experience so far, the most common questions have been “what program should I take?” and “why would I take any program now that I’m abstinent?”.

In terms of their next right step in recovery, both questions boil down to, “where do I belong?”.

 

I know that recovery requires maintenance and that professional support is very different from peer support (one does not replace the other).  I know that when clients attend events that they’ve been to before, their experience of it is different, depending upon how they show up. I know that the 3 day alumni events are an excellent way to get focused help with anything that is blocking you from deepened recovery. The 3 day events have a less structured schedule than the intensive, providing more free time to connect with others. As a food addiction professional, it is my responsibility to share with you what I know.  As a fellow food addict, I am called to share with you what I experienced.

 

In 2018, with 10 months of stable recovery, it was suggested that I could benefit from attending an Acorn intensive. I remember wondering what reason there was to even consider it. I didn’t feel any need for it, not because of pride or ego, but because for the first time in my life, I was experiencing mental peace . I simply didn’t know that anything “more” was possible.  I was told that an intensive would be “powerfully life changing”.  I had a skeptical reaction to what sounded like a buzzword description. Luckily for me, I was curious enough and off I went with the intention to “observe” and “learn” as much as I could.

 

To this day, I marvel at the work that was in me to do, without even knowing it.  I couldn’t tell you where it began or how it unfolded but apparently, even in stable recovery, there dwelled feelings deep in my heart, that needed to be processed. With love and compassion, Amanda guided me safely to a place within, uncovering profound anger and grief that I never even knew were there.  This was only the beginning.  That experience transformed my recovery and thus my life, in ways I never could have imagined.  I can’t explain how I ended up there but it was clearly where I was meant to be.

 

I’m so thankful that today, I know where I belong. I belong in recovery. If you’re still wondering where you belong, I’d say right here, with the rest of us in the SHiFT community.

Andrea

Power

For the last two weeks, I was full of excitement to write this post. I knew exactly what the theme would be and every day I jotted something down in one of the many notebooks found in every room of the house. That’s often how I write, dropping whatever I’m doing, just to capture the words in the midst of inspiration.

Yesterday, after 12 days of inspired notes and “knowing“ what to write, I woke up with one word on my mind.

“Power”.

I could hear the word loud and clear in a voice that was not my own. I could see it too, there it stood, in bold, black caps and simple font. In fact, I could even feel it as well. When this happens, it usually means I’m being called to something…inspired in some way that is yet to reveal itself. My sleepy eyes barely open, I wondered what this was about. Feeling curious but also annoyed, I wondered if this was about to impact my writing. Recognizing that I was on a tight deadline, I said to myself, “You already have a plan… explore this “power“ message another time”.

Then almost immediately, I flashed back to the day before. While in a session with a client, (referring to the electricity in her home), she said “I have no power“. We joked about how this was most likely a gift that would allow her day to be something far greater than what she had originally planned. I pushed the flashback out of my mind and told myself to ignore the coincidence.

Moments later, as I was fully opened my eyes, I glanced at my phone and saw a message from someone experiencing relapse. Without thinking, I heard myself whisper out loud, “You couldn’t have done anything different. You simply had no power, physically or mentally. I pray that you find the ability to connect to a source of power today”.

In that moment, I knew that despite my original plans, I was meant to write about power.

In an instant, I was brought back to a memory from years ago. One winter weekend, I’d gone away with a partner to spend a few days in a trailer at a remote park. We arrived only to discover that there was no power. I remember feeling afraid, overwhelmed and resistant. I felt paralyzed by the idea that without electrical power (the only kind I’d ever relied on) this would be both uncomfortable and unsafe. I wanted to turn around and go home. I had no idea how we would manage to do anything, let alone the most important thing, to stay warm. We had to find an alternate source of power but there was none to be found.

At some point, I considered the possibility that I didn’t have to rely solely on electricity. I considered the fact that many people had survived for centuries before me, without electricity. Somehow, I was able to believe that an alternate source of “power” might have the ability to accomplish the desired outcome.

With just enough dry wood, we lit a fire to cook enough food. We made a tiny enclosure and slept in the kitchen, keeping a single gas stove burner lit for warmth. We melted fresh snow to wash up. For the first time, I experienced the complete and utter silence of a still winter morning. In the day, we walked miles of vacant land, all at once experiencing the warmth of the sun and the biting cold of the wind. At night we played board games, by candlelight.

What began as despair for “having no power”, led to a belief in something I’d never considered before, which led to a willingness to stay and an attempt to salvage the weekend. Not only was my weekend salvaged, it was one of the best weekends of my life, igniting my spiritual flame in new and unexpected ways.

My recovery began just like that weekend at the trailer. When it came to solving my problems with food, I believed there was only one power available to me, my own. Without access to enough willpower, I had no idea how I would manage.

Thankfully, at some point, I accepted that I have no more power over my addiction than I do over the supply of electricity in a remote park. As a food addict, I am powerless over food. But beyond that, as a human being, I am repeatedly faced with lack of power. There are moments when I feel exhausted. There are moments when I feel lazy. There are moments when I feel sad, scared or confused. There are moments, no matter how fleeting, when I simply must acknowledge that I do not have the power I need to deal with certain circumstances. When this happens, the only answer for me, is to connect to another source of power. Sometimes I meditate, which connects me to a personal higher power. Sometimes I call someone, which connects me to the power of a strong, supportive community. And sometimes, I gain power by plugging into “an outside source” such as listening to music, basking in a beam of sunlight, or watching old videos of my beloved pug Benny.

Recovery is like that weekend at the trailer, it opened my world to an existence that I had never lived before… one that I would have missed out on, had I continued to run my life on (what I thought was) the only reliable source of power.

May you always find and connect with the power you need and may you in turn, be a loving source of power for others.

Andrea

 

No Matter What

I’ve been in recovery for a little over four years now and on two occasions, I found myself in a situation where I thought “today’s the day I lose my abstinence”. I remember both played out the same way and the last time occurred when I was still working at the bakery. I thought I’d planned well enough that day but was unexpectedly faced with a double shift. Not anticipating that, I was without a back up meal or an abstinence kit. (*News flash Andrea* …That is precisely the point of an abstinence kit!!! To protect one’s abstinence in cases just like this!). As evening approached, I remember thinking, “I should stop for a break, I should call my sponsor, I should come up with a plan”. I remember not doing that. The later it got, the more overwhelmed I became and soon the focus was, “just get the work done, you can figure your food out later”.

I hadn’t even realized the danger I was in until I headed home. Into the night I went, only to discover that nothing was open other than gas stations and one grocery store that was closing soon. It would take a miracle to get there in time. In a frantic and panicked state of mind, I called my sponsor. I was granted a miracle, I made it to the store just in time while my sponsor talked me through every minute of every decision, until the moment I was eating in my car.

My recovery was at risk that day but I can assure you, it wasn’t all about the missing abstinence kit.

This was about control and self will. It was about ignoring feelings in my body that were screaming at me to pause. It was about ignoring my boundaries around meal times and choosing to prioritize work over my abstinence. This was about getting caught up in my day, so much so that I listened to the voice that said “I’ll figure this out later”. That voice is detrimental to my recovery. All of these factors can be summarized in one sentence.

I did not put my recovery first.

That was a couple of years ago and I remember what a terrifying experience it was. I vowed to myself and others,“ I’ll never put myself in that position again”.

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Florida. I remember thinking, “it’s just a short flight… I don’t need to plan beyond packing my breakfast… I’ll figure something out when I get there”. When Amanda came to pick me up, the first thing she did (after a long awaited hug) was ask me what I needed to do in terms of my meals and my recovery. I found myself saying, “I don’t have a plan, I’ll figure something out later”. With wide eyes and chin dropped, Amanda asked, “Is this what you would suggest to a client”?

(*Cue Andrea stunned like a deer in the headlights*)

“No, of course not”! I gasped at the absurdity. Suddenly my gasp turned to a low, awkward giggle as I stepped into the realization that I had failed to put my recovery first, just like that day at the bakery.

After about a week in Florida, I noticed that I was incredibly busy and I felt the days getting away from me. I noticed that despite my serenity, I was approaching parts of my program from the “I’ll figure it out later” perspective. I asked myself the same question that Amanda had asked one week earlier.

Would I suggest this to a client?

“No”.

I asked myself what I’d say if I watched this unfolding in someone else’s recovery.

“ I see warning signs, you need to get back to basics, immediately”.

In an effort to prove myself wrong, I leafed through my nightly check ins from the past few weeks, assessing how consistently I’d been fulfilling the basics. In two key areas, I was shocked to see gaps larger than I’d like to admit.

“That can’t be right, I’d have noticed this sooner”, I thought.

And then I remembered that lately, I felt fearful when sending my check-ins. Fearful of receiving feedback I didn’t want to hear. Somehow, no one said a word, which left me feeling relieved, lucky, excited. It was that same feeling I got as a kid, when the teacher would announce “no homework“ as the last bell rang on a Friday afternoon.

I got quiet and meditated. In my mind’s eye, I saw two people. Andrea the food addict was facing Andrea the food addiction counsellor. I heard the two conversing in my mind. Counsellor Andrea asked “ how is the excitement of “getting away” with things any less dangerous than a food thought?”

Radio silence.

Counsellor Andrea spoke softly, “Check in to your body. What’s happening for you right now?”

Food addict Andrea felt peaceful and calm in spite of the quickly unraveling truth…

  • Short cuts aren’t condoned based on lack of feedback, nor are they something to celebrate
  • Risk of relapse occurs when I assume I can “figure that out later”
  • Risk of relapse occurs when I let life crowd out recovery
  • Risk of relapse is present no matter what my profession is
  • Risk of relapse is present even though I feel peaceful and serene
  • Risk of relapse is present even though I eat weighed and measured meals
  • Risk of relapse is present when I do not balance giving support with receiving support
  • My recovery is my responsibility
  • I am a food addict and my disease is insidious
  • Risk of relapse is always present

Coming back into my body, I immediately wanted to immerse myself in the gifts of fully working my program. I picked up the phone, called my sponsor and shared my thinking.

It turned out that Amanda’s simple question was an act of service. Ultimately, it led me to see that “not putting my recovery first” can show up in countless sneaky ways, from thoughts to actions, from willful to unintentional. This not only led me back to the basics but to my deep truth that recovery must come first, no matter what.

– Andrea